Here are five things Oklahoma fans need to know about Orange Bowl opponent Alabama:
1. Tua Tagovailoa is questionable
Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa underwent ankle surgery following Alabama’s 35-28 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Nick Saban has insisted he’ll be ready in time for the Orange Bowl, but as of Heisman weekend, Tagovailoa was using a scooter and protective boot to get around. If Tagovailoa can’t go, it will be Jalen Hurts running the offense — and that could be just as difficult for the Sooners. Tagovailoa is the pro prospect, but Hurts doesn’t turn the ball over and is much better with his legs. Either way, Ruffin McNeill’s defense will have problems.
2. Two star defenders
Alabama is always loaded on defense, but this squad has two defenders who stand out: Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and safety Deionte Thompson. Williams is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2019 NFL draft and will be the best defensive lineman the Sooners have faced this year. Thompson is also expected to be taken on the first day in April’s draft and could cause problems for Kyler Murray in the secondary.
3. OU’s recent history vs. Alabama is good
Oklahoma has played the Crimson Tide three times in the 21st century and won each game. The Sooners swept a home-and-home with Alabama in 2002-03 and then upset the Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl 45-31. After that miraculous win, the Sooners went 8-5 the next year, fired Josh Heupel, hired Lincoln Riley, and the rest is history. All-time, the Sooners have a 3-1-1 advantage in this series. Alabama’s win came in the 1963 Orange Bowl.
4. One of Alabama’s leading rushers
is from Oklahoma
Running back Josh Jacobs slid under the recruiting radar until Nick Saban convinced him to come to Tuscaloosa back in 2016. Jacobs attended McLain High School in Tulsa before his recruitment blew up just before national signing day. He received offers from the Sooners, Missouri and others before ultimately choosing the Crimson Tide. He is Alabama’s third-leading rusher this year, totaling 494 yards on 94 carries. He leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns.
5. Trio of receivers will be a problem
Oklahoma has had its issues with receivers this season, and Alabama may have three of the best the Sooners will have seen all year long. The combination of Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs will be a major strain on OU’s secondary. Jeudy is fresh off winning the Biletnikoff Award, while Waddle and Ruggs each surpassed the 40-catch, 700-yard benchmarks. Behind them, it doesn’t get any easier with Irv Smith Jr. and last year’s title game hero, DeVonta Smith, also contributing to Alabama’s receiving corps. No matter who is playing quarterback for Alabama, that’s going to be a tough matchup for Oklahoma.
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